DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Focused Gators defeat volleyball rival Horizon

It was another day with another sweep for the XCP varsity volleyball team.
With rival Phoenix Horizon coming into the Activity Center to heat up the stove again, Xavier put out the fire with a three-game sweep on Wednesday (Sept. 3), the Gators’ second sweep in as many days.
After defeating Peoria Centennial on Tuesday night (Sept. 2), the Gators rolled past Horizon 25-22, 25-12, 25-12.
This Horizon team is but a shadow of its former self, the one that challenged Xavier down to the wire last season and fell to the Gators in the Division I semifinals, before the Gators went on to win it all.
Gone is the Huskies’ tall skyscraper front wall, as well as many other talented players.
The Huskies are young, but so is Xavier, with only two seniors. In this case, young does not mean inexperienced. The Gators have enough to make a run at another title.
“I’ll take it (victory),’’ said Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant.
When it was mentioned that the Gators appeared to have more focus than the Huskies and perhaps more than Centennial the night before, Bryant said, “We try to be focused. We are taking each match one at a time and we are working hard every single day.’’
While defense keyed the win over Centennial, this one was attributable to good service and good passing.
One of the players providing both was junior Callie Jones.
“She is making good decisions in regard to her passes and reads the defense very well, so she knows how to set up her teammates (at the net),’’ Bryant said.
Freshman outside hitter Alayna Wagner also is developing into a valuable player.
Wagner had several key kills in the contest.
“She’s a freshman, but she has a lot of volleyball under her belt,’’ Bryant said. “She’s already doing a lot for us and we are excited to see how far she progresses.’’
In the first game, Horizon stayed close and was within 24-22 on a block. But a net serve on the next point cut the potential rally short.
Xavier used a 7-0 run late in the second game to cruise to victory. Junior outside hitter Khalia Lanier finished this one off with a powerful kill shot. Lanier appeared to be more involved – all over the floor --  in this match.
Wagner and her teammates along the net proved to be a difficult problem to solve for Horizon in the third game, blocking several shots or altering the returns to go beyond the back line and out of bounds.
The junior varsity scored a pair of 25-16 wins over Horizon, and the freshman team outlasted the Huskies 27-25 and 26-24 to do its part.
Xavier will play its third straight home match on Sept. 9 against Mesa Desert Ridge.

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